Back in 1851, a few streets away, the clerk has just met a branch of my Welsh family. Here it is not just a matter of understanding what the foreigners are saying, but rearranging a whole naming convention. Hereditary surnames came late to Wales and they were still getting used to the whole idea.
Until the English imported the concept, in order to maintain their own records, individuals tended to be identified by their given name and something particular to them, like the relationship with one of their parents.
"Your name please?"
"Sion ap Rhys." In his lilting Welsh accent, the words rolled together like a song.
The clerk stared. That didn't even sound like a proper name. "In English please."
Since the days of the Tudor kings, successive laws had tried to stamp out the Welsh language. Even monoglot Welsh speakers would have been told their English name by exasperated landlords and vicars. "John." This was the Anglicized form of Sion.
"Your surname please."
This was tricky. He was Welsh. He didn't technically have one. But back home, there had been a lot of people called Sion. It was the most common male name in the country. He was distinguished from every other Sion in the village by adding his father's name - 'ap Rhys' meant 'son of Rhys.' Unfortunately no-one had ever told him what that was in English.
"Erm, son of Rhys?"
The clerk was tired. Elsewhere he had got around this issue by simply adding a nice English patronymic. All of the 'ap Sion' men had become 'Jones'. With the Welsh emphasis on the first syllable, it had worked better than 'Johnson' or 'Jonson'. But he didn't have a clue either about this Rhys word. It all sounded way too distastefully Welsh.
"Say it in your tongue again."
There was an English word somewhere in the phonetics. The clerk duly entered 'Sion ap Rhys' as 'John Price'. Elsewhere, his colleagues were busily turning 'ap Ragnel' into 'Prangnell', 'Pragnell' 'Pringle' and 'Pangnall'. They were doing the same to a lot of other names.
Of course, they also had to enter the place of birth. Tiggunnernon was what the clerk in 1871 heard my great-great grandmother say.
It wasn't a bad guess for the spelling of Tregynon. He did better than the man who interviewed her father. He gave up completely and merely wrote 'John Jones, Wales'.
If you know or suspect that your family once hailed from a different culture, then it can help greatly to research the naming conventions in that country. Even today, they are not standard across the world and, in the past, there were many more besides.